THE beleaguered people of Houston are struggling to survive one of the worst natural disasters in the city’s history. Fifteen trillion gallons of rainfall have fallen on some of its districts so far — more than twice as much as devastated New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck 10 years ago.
As ever in such circumstances, many people in the emergency and police services and in local communities have responded with selfless heroism to rescue their fellow citizens.
Such countless acts of humanity always give the lie to claims that human beings are primarily selfish, greedy and egotistical and therefore incapable of creating a better type of society than the one we have now.
Nonetheless, acts of courage notwithstanding, dozens of Houstonians have already died and the fear is that many more bodies lie beneath the floods.
While hurricanes, storms and other deadly weather systems have always been with us, there is abundant evidence that extreme weather events have multiplied prolifically over recent decades.
Intense heatwaves and heavy rainstorms have increased in frequency and size even in the past few years, not least in Texas which experienced record-breaking average monthly temperatures and droughts in 2011.
Improvements in so-called “attribution science” mean that we can be more confident than ever that human-made global warming and climate change are responsible for making extreme weather events much worse.
When water heats up it expands, which means that warmer oceans are expanding too.
Melting ice formations add to rising sea levels around the coasts of the US and Europe as elsewhere. Warmer air carries more water vapour.
The result is more and bigger rainstorms and more extensive flooding. In addition, stronger warming in the Arctic may be slowing down the movement of weather systems in the mid-latitudes, keeping rainstorms in the same area for longer periods than previously.
All of which underlines the urgency not only of investing in civil protection facilities and services to prepare for disasters that were once more remote than they are today.
Diverting even a tiny fraction of the mammoth US military budget to that end would save many more lives in the future.
It must also mean intensifying the struggle to reduce the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, which are twice as high per head in the US than in Europe or China.
Yet US President Trump has recently given notice of his country’s withdrawal from the Paris Accord on climate change and its very modest commitments to monitor and cut the emissions that are causing global warming.
It’s a shame he didn’t stay a little longer on his flying visit to Texas — although not Houston — this week and explain to the flood victims why more is not spent on civil defence and why he has caved in to the big business polluters and climate change deniers by withdrawing from the Paris Accord.
We all might reflect, too, on why so much of the world’s attention has been focused on the disaster in the US when floods have also been killing more than 1,200 innocents in India, Bangladesh and Nepal. Lives there are no less valuable, although most Western media coverage appears to believe otherwise.